A new report by the British Council has revealed the critical importance of provision for language teaching and learning in refugee communities, and countries that host refugees in large numbers.
Language teaching and learning is essential for increasing the resilience of refugees and providing them with opportunities for education, social engagement and access to services. Without adequate provision for language teaching and learning, the long-term options for people forced to flee from violence and instability are more limited. Therefore humanitarian agencies, donors and governments must consider how to improve the nature, quality and scale of language teaching and learning as a key response to working with refugees and host communities.
Different communities and age groups have different language needs, and while literacy in home languages may be the priority of the youngest age groups, other languages, with English nearly always prominent in the hierarchy, play key roles too, especially in later age groups, the British Council research finds.
Writing in the Foreword to the report, Adrian Chadwick, Regional Director, British Council, Middle East and North Africa, said “The great risk is that children and young people who are refugees will never recover their education, a generation whose lack of access to opportunity will leave them vulnerable for the rest of their lives, and less able to contribute to the rebuilding of Syria when the conflict finally ends. Ultimately, language is a tool for communication, understanding others, and the achievement of individual potential. Nowhere is this more significant than in Syria and its neighbouring countries, where language needs and differences intersect with vulnerability, social tensions and limited service provision, as millions of Syrians across the region look for support to help rebuild their lives.”
Also in the foreword of the report Amin Awad, Director of the UNHCR Middle East and North Africa Bureau, said “Language is an equalizer. When a child can speak and write in the language of the host country, this creates confidence and self-assurance, at the same time children and youth should receive opportunities to improve and maintain understanding of the language of their country of origin. For adults, language skills are fundamental in order to contribute to their host communities, while language instruction also provides a bridge between communities.”
The report ‘Language for Resilience’, published today, aims to develop international understanding of how language learning builds resilience, whether through giving a voice to young people and adults, building inclusion in host communities, or providing individuals with the skills they need to access services, education and information. The report recommends the establishment of a ‘Language Vulnerability Index’ to support a coordinated response to refugees’ needs.
Focussing on the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Turkey the report describes the key needs of different refugee groups, current good practice in the response of host governments and humanitarian agencies, and potential gaps in programming. The report also considers the ways that the British Council and other partners can further develop language education programmes to build capacity during times of protracted crisis.
Joel Bubbers, Director of the British Council in Syria, said “Ultimately language is about communication, and without communication there can be no understanding. By giving refugees and host communities the capacity to understand each other, we can go a long way to supporting cohesion now, and for the future.”
Key findings of the research include:
• All the languages refugees use help them build resilience at the individual, family and community levels – both home language and additional languages matter
• Proficiency in additional languages provides new opportunities for education and employment
• Proficiency in key languages gives a voice for people to tell their story in various contexts
• Language learning can bolster social cohesion and intercultural understanding
• Language learning activities can be supportive interventions to address the effects of loss, displacement and trauma
• Building the capacity of language teachers can strengthen the resilience of the formal and non-formal education systems in host communities